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Stand Your Ground

Stand Your Ground Law in California

Self-defense laws typically justify someone's use of force in situations where it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person.

Similarly, a person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using lethal force in their home, known as the Castle Doctrine.

California law allows you to act in self-defense if you or someone else is in immediate danger. In other words, you can take the steps necessary to maintain your safety, such as fighting back, using physical force, or even killing someone who is endangering your life, called "justifiable homicide."

Stand Your Ground Law in California
California's self-defense laws give you the right to defend yourself without retreating.

"Stand Your Ground" means that if someone threatens you or someone else, you are under no duty to retreat if you want to claim self-defense. You are allowed to remain present and defend yourself, no matter what.

The "Castle Doctrine" is similar. It says you are not obligated to retreat if an intruder enters your home. In fact, under California Penal Code 198.5 PC, a home intruder is always treated as a situation of reasonable fear of imminent harm.

So, how does a court decide if you legally acted in self-defense? A judge or jury will typically examine the facts of the case and look for certain things.

For example, whether you reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury and whether you reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger.

They will also examine whether you used no more force than was necessary to defend against that danger.

Notably, however, there are nuances to California's self-defense laws that you should know. In any self-defense case, you can only use the force reasonably necessary to defend yourself, which is highly subjective and often debated.

What is Self-Defense?

Self-defense means acting in lawful self-defense or defense of others under the following situations:

  • If you reasonably believe that you or another person are in imminent danger of being harmed and
  • You reasonably believe the immediate use of force is necessary to defend against the danger and
  • You cannot use more force than is reasonably required.

If you acted in self-defense against an attacker in California, you could claim the "stand your ground" law as a viable defense in that case. You can stand your ground and defend yourself and others without retreating.

What is Self-Defense?

Like other states, California gives you the legal right to defend yourself against imminent threats of harm, sometimes even with deadly force. However, these laws are nuanced and attempt to balance the right to self-defense and prevent unnecessary violence.

The reasonable fear of imminent harm must be immediate and present. In the same situation, you can only use the force a reasonable person would believe necessary.

To determine whether your fear or belief is reasonable, the totality of circumstances will be compared to what a reasonable person in a similar situation with the same knowledge would have believed.

Typically, you can defend yourself or others with proportional force if you reasonably fear imminent bodily harm and use lethal force to protect your home from any intruders.

This means that in limited situations, you can use deadly force or violence, known as justifiable homicide, to protect yourself or others from harm. This is an affirmative defense to murder and voluntary manslaughter.

What Are the Legal Requirements?

For the stand your ground self-defense to be valid in California, several criteria must be met, such as the following:

  • The belief that force is necessary must be reasonable. This means a reasonable person in the same scenario would have perceived the threat similarly.
  • The threat of harm must be immediate and present. The use of force is only justifiable if you believe that immediate danger of bodily harm or death is imminent.
  • The force used in self-defense must be proportional to the threat. For instance, deadly force can only be justified if the threat involves a risk of serious bodily injury or death.

What Is "Stand Your Ground?"

Stand your ground law allows someone to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves with no duty to retreat when they reasonably believe the force is necessary to prevent imminent death, bodily harm, or a violent crime.

Simply put, you have the right to defend yourself when faced with the immediate danger of being killed or sustaining a great bodily injury. Consider the following quick facts:

  • An imminent danger means the situation demands immediate action, such as someone pointing a weapon at you.
  • You can also use reasonable force to protect your property from imminent harm and protect the property of a family member.
  • Reasonable force is the amount of force a reasonable person would use in a similar situation.
  • You can use reasonable force to make a trespasser leave. If they resist, you can increase the amount of force in proportion to the force used by the trespasser and the threat level they pose to the property.
  • California's stand-your-ground laws are interpreted through case law and statutory provisions related to self-defense.
  • California jury instructions say if someone reasonably believes they are in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury, they may act in self-defense without retreating.

This principle is supported by a body of case law that recognizes the right to stand your ground in any place where the defendant has a right to be.

How Is Stand Your Ground Different from the Castle Doctrine?

The "Castle Doctrine" is codified in California's Penal Code 198.5 PC and applies to someone's home. It allows homeowners the legal right to use even deadly force against an intruder without the obligation to retreat.

In contrast, "Stand Your Ground" principles apply to any location where someone legally resides, as long as they reasonably believe there is an imminent threat of harm. Thus, the main differences are as follows:

  • The Castle Doctrine typically applies to your rights over your home, while Stand Your Ground applies to any location where you have a legal right to be.
  • Stand Your Ground only permits deadly force proportionate to the imminent threat of death. At the same time, the Castle Doctrine presumes an imminent threat of harm or death and allows the use of lethal force against an intruder.

What Are the Risks?

California's laws protect people acting in self-defense, but there are some limitations that you must consider, such as the following:

  • Standing your ground does not apply if you provoked the attack, were involved in criminal activity, or had no legal right to be where you were attacked. If you are trespassing on someone's property, you can't make a stand-your-ground claim if confronted by the owner.
  • The interpretation of a "reasonable belief" of imminent danger can be ambiguous.
  • Prosecutors often attempt to demonstrate that your belief in imminent danger was unreasonable.

Simply put, claiming self-defense can be complicated, even if you have the legal right to defend yourself. Preparing a defense strategy requires closely reviewing the facts and circumstances if you are facing criminal charges.

Perhaps we can make a compelling argument that the use of force was necessary and proportional. Contact our California criminal defense attorneys for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is in Los Angeles, CA.

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